Monday, 31 May 2010

Yorkshire post highlights plight of traditional crafts

Nice article in the Yorkshire post.

Trevor Ablett is one of the last remaining pen- and pocket-knife makers in the country and at the age of 67, he's close to hanging up his tools and retiring – but who will take his place?
From the last few scissor-makers to the last sieve or riddle maker to the last broom and basket producer, skills that have been passed down through generations are on the edge of extinction.

According to the Heritage Crafts Association, set up a few weeks ago to help revive the fortunes of the master craftsman, many British crafts are in danger of dying out. Some of the smaller heritage crafts have declined to such an extent that only one person is still working in them.
"The major problem with traditional crafts at the moment is we fall outside the remit of all current Government agencies."

Read more here

traditional crafts organisation in Slovakia

I just found out about this organisation in Slovakia and they have a nice English website which is worth a few minutes browsing.

"Creating utility and decorative items according to old patterns or according to one´s creative ideas is a very attractive form of free time activity. It is the reason why ÚĽUV promotes the crafts courses for adults and young people as a form of lifestyle. Working with crafts, people learn about cultural traditions of their ethic group, gain deeper knowledge of natural materials and manual production technologies and, last but not least, they learn about themselves."

They are funded by the ministry of culture  and support crafts in many ways, running shops to seel work, arranging workshops and apprenticeships, annual exhibitions and a magazine, the current issue seems to feature fan carved birds something which my friends Del Stubbs in the US and Sean Hellman in the UK would be interested in.

I would recommend 6 minutes watching this English language video giving an overview of the work and ethos of the organisation. You need to download it and have something like media player to make it work.

A link from this site also took me to the European Folk Art and Craft Federation a grouping of national craft organisations which looks very interesting.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

crafts, environmentalism and green woodwork

Is craft environmental friendly? There have been a spate of "craft and environmentalism" conferences recently, I haven't attended any, the last one was in Plymouth so the choice was a day each way on the train or an hour in a plane, many folk flew. I have had a very long standing interest in environmentalism and came to craft through working in conservation but I have never sold my work on a green/environmental type label. I am just back from the annual meeting of the green wood workers and pole lathe turners, an event inaccessible by public transport and without any lift-share arrangement. Many green woodworkers make their living by being paid to demonstrate at shows which necessitates driving often long distances. I don't know but I suspect driving 5 miles uses far more energy than running an electric lathe for a day. Using a foot powered lathe is not necessarily environmental friendly.

I guess what I feel is that in order to sell work on an environmental ticket we need to conduct a total audit of the production process, the sales and delivery chain and the lifespan of the product too. Today is my birthday and I was delighted with a gift from Nicola of a merino wool top from howies.

howies as a company do just this sort of research, see their blog here 
"Making our products uses this much energy:
Bringing our products to you from our factories around the world consumes this much energy:
Washing and ironing our products uses this much energy:
As a company that wants to find the lowest impact way to make its quality clothing, that long red line needs all our energy.
We have to start designing products that need to be washed less.
It might take us some time. But at least we know who the enemy is."

howies products are not cheap but they are so well made they last and last. I struggle to find a pair a decent work jeans that last more than a few months but I bought three pairs from howies in the sale and they have outlasted all others (18 months very hard wear and still perfectly presentable. It is true they can also be washed less and still look presentable. I like this philosophy, I am far from perfect myself, it is difficult in a rural area in the 21st century UK to live an environmentally sensitive lifestyle. We are so car dependent. I wonder what our grandchildren will think, "Jees Grandad you mean you drove 5 miles in 2 tons of metal to get someone else to cook your dinner?"

So is craft environmentally friendly? I don't think it is inherently any more or less so than many other production methods and since I and most other craftsfolk drive a car we are part of the problem not the solution. I don't sell my work as being environmentally friendly, this year I will fly to Japan (last long haul flight was 2001, one long haul flight uses all your individual carbon allowance for a year) next week a friend and I ride our motorbikes to Italy. I have heated our home with carbon neutral wood for 20 years and pedal a foot powered lathe but still in global terms I use far more than my fair share of the earths limited resources.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Closure of New Entrant Scheme Hereford College

The Heritage Crafts Association are very concerned about the forthcoming closure of the excellent new entrants scheme at Hereford College. For nearly 30 years this excellent training program has been available for in post training of working craftspeople. Many apprentices get sent there to learn their basic skills in forge work, upholstery, wheelwrighting or thatching. HCA are co-ordinting communications between all the affected crafts and doing whatever we can to find a way of keeping these courses going. We had this reply from Ian Peake principle of the college yesterday and I will be discussing the issues with him on the phone tomorrow.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Robin Hood the Movie, Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott and craftsmanship.

On May 12th Ridley Scott's epic Robin Hood opens Cannes film festival and it opens in UK cinemas on the 14th. Why write about this on a crafts blog? Well having spent a bit of time on set last year I know there was a huge amount of wonderful craftwork commissioned for the film. Ridley Scott is known for the detail of his sets and now I can see why.

 Even the stonework of the caste was convincing, I had to touch it before I could be sure whether it was stone or not.

I made lots of wooden bowls varying from simple humble drinking bowls and dishes to high status silver rimmed mazers. I sent this set last February see blog

 Then when they started filming apparantly Ridley Scott liked them so much he wanted a load more so in April I sent these.

 In July I got to visit the set and set up a bowlturners workshop with my old lathe, piles of shavings from my workshop floor and a set of tools I forged for the set.

I had imagined a set would look very fake or at best it would look OK from a distance and that when you walked round the back of a building it would all be plywood and screws. In fact it was more like walking round an ethnographic museum. There was lots of wonderful craftwork, baskets, coracles, rushwork, I heard the ropeworks at Chatham made "an awful lot of rope" 

This is a  blog  post from my set visit with links to some of the makers I knew about. 

There is plenty in the press at the moment, this Telegraph article  suggests that Robin Hood is a corruption of "Robin in the Wood" which gave me a giggle. I hope it will be a good film but I know the set in the background will be worth looking at.